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How to choose a cell phone that you won’t regret buying

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Mike Timmermann, Clark.com

I was talking about cell phones with a few co-workers the other day when one of them said she wasn’t happy with her brand new smartphone.

Chelsea, who runs Team Clark’s social media, just made the switch from Verizon to MetroPCS.

How to avoid smartphone buyer’s remorse

RELATED: This $45/month unlimited cell phone plan runs on Verizon’s network

She got a great deal: MetroPCS charges $80 per month for two lines of unlimited talk, text and data. The offer also included two free LG K20 Plus phones, which retail for about $150 apiece.

Chelsea wasn’t expecting her free phone to be iPhone quality, but it has still been a letdown.

“Capturing moments of my daughter playing was seamless with my iPhone. One click and even though she was moving (as toddlers do) the camera snapped so quickly I still got the sweet smile she flashed just a split second before,” Chelsea told me. “Now, with my LG, it takes so long for the lenses to adjust that her head will be turning as the camera clicks and most of my pictures of her are blurry.”

Picture from Chelsea’s phone:

Can you really trust online phone reviews?

Choosing a smartphone that you won’t regret buying, or in Chelsea’s case getting for free, is easier said than done.

For example, the LG K20 Plus has 4.1 out of 5 stars on MetroPCS.com, but money expert Clark Howard says you should never rely on the star rating alone.

He suggests that you read the actual reviews, but even that can be tricky because of potential fakes.

Clark said on the radio show that fixed reviews are prevalent on many websites that write about products or tell you about deals — so you may not always be getting an objective review.

His advice is to check multiple sources for reviews, and throw out the excessively positive and negative ones.

To be clear, Team Clark’s editorial policy is that we do not get paid for endorsements or reviews of any product or service, nor do we allow advertisers to place paid content on our site. Read more here.

“My policy is that I am unbought and unbossed,” Clark said recently on The Clark Howard Show Podcast.

RELATED: How I lowered my cell phone bill to $12 per month

Don’t just read reviews, watch them! 

The problem is that not everyone has that same policy. So, in addition to reading smartphone reviews from various sources, here’s something that works for me: YouTube videos.

If you can’t try out the phone in a store, smartphone video reviews are a great way to compare features.

Just like with written reviews, it can be hard to tell if the YouTube reviewer has been compensated in exchange for the review, but at least you can see the phone in action.

My recommendation is that you first watch the video with the sound off to judge the camera’s features — like picture quality — for yourself.

You can always go back later to watch it with the volume up to hear the reviewer’s opinion.

I watched this LG K20 Plus review with Chelsea earlier today. We both thought it was helpful because the camera test showed the video/image quality in multiple settings.

This is the type of information Chelsea wishes she had before she got her free phone.

How to search for YouTube smartphone reviews

Finding these YouTube reviews is pretty straightforward. Just enter the name of the smartphone in the search bar and other relevant terms. Here are some examples:

  • iPhone 8 review
  • iPhone 8 camera review
  • iPhone 8 vs. Samsung Galaxy S8 review

Also, look in the video description box to see if the reviewer mentions whether the video was sponsored.

Final thought 

If this sounds like too much work, you may want to consider a short-term digital subscription to Consumer Reports, which buys all of the products that it tests and reviews. Clark trusts them.

As for the other reviews online, think carefully about whether they’re true or if somebody was paid to write them.

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